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Picture Books Author of the Month
Russell Hoban

Russell Hoban
4 February 1925 -- ???

Russell Conwell Hoban was born on February 4, 1925 in Lansdale, Pennsylvania to Abram T. and Jeanette (Dimmerman) Hoban, two Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine. His father was an advertising manager for the Jewish Daily Forward. His mother became a store owner to support her family after her husband died when Russell was 11 years old. He has two sisters named Tana and Freeda.

Hoban was born into an artistic family. To stimulate his children's development, Hoban's father would reward them with nickels for witty remarks, exceptional drawings, and similar activities. His father, who worked in Philadelphia, also directed amateur productions of plays.

From the age of five, Hoban drew and sketched as much as possible. His older sister Tana was a successful illustrator whose work included covers for the Saturday Evening Post. She was a major influence on Hoban's art.

He graduated from Lansdale High School in 1941 when he was sixteen. Upon graduating, he entered Temple University, but dropped out after only five weeks. He decided to attend the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. He took classes there for a year and a half. It was here that he met his future wife, artist and illustrator Lillian Aberman.

At that time, Hoban joined the military like many of his fellow Americans during World War II. He served in the United States Army Infantry, where he served on the Italian front from 1943 until 1945, when he was discharged. He received a Bronze Star for his service.

Hoban married Lillian on January 31, 1944, and they moved to New York. Lillian gave up illustration to study and teach dance professionally. She did this until the early 1960's, when she teamed up with Hoban to produce children's books.

When the couple divorced in 1975, their relationship included both a working relationship as well as the marital one. Lillian Hoban worked with her husband on a number of books. The Hobans had four children together: three daughters (Phoebe, Esme, and Julia) and a son (Abrom).

Over the ten years following his discharge from the Army, Hoban held a variety of jobs including being a freight handler, a shipping clerk, a messenger for Western Union, and electroplating assistant. In his spare time, Hoban freelanced as a designer for silk screen shops. He also worked two years as an illustrator for the Wexton Company. Hoban's art ability was put to use in art shows, animation studios, and on several magazines including Time, Life, Fortune, The Saturday Evening Post, and True. He was even a television art director for five years at a large advertising agency called Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn, Inc. in New York City.

In 1956, Hoban left the advertising agency to do freelance work. He had always been interested in painting so he resolved to use his spare time to paint the scenes of New York. Soon he was painting the boxers of Stillman's Gym, which is famous for training would-be prize fighters. Sports Illustrated asked him to do a series on the gym, which launched his career in the direction of being a sports illustrator.

It was Hoban's interest in machinery that led to his first book for children. What Does It Do and How Does It Work, which was published by Harper in 1959, was written as well as illustrated by Hoban. Beginning in 1961 with the publication of his book, Herman the Loser, his wife, Lillian, became his illustrator. Hoban started writing full-time in 1967.

The Hoban family moved to London in 1969. Lillian Hoban returned to the United States to live in Wilton Connecticut with the Hoban children after the couple's divorce in 1975.

Hoban published his first adult novel, The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz in 1973 and more have followed.

In 1975, Hoban married his second wife, Gundula Ahl, with whom he had three sons: Jachin Boaz, Wieland, and Benjamin. Hoban had met Gundula in 1970.

During the course of his career, Hoban has written approximately fifty books for children, about half of which Lillian illustrated. He has also written six novels for adults and three plays.

When discussing his writings, Hoban once said, "I write the stories to be read aloud, and I try for good sound, for an easy reading rhythm for the reader, and a comfortable intake rhythm for the listener. [2] "Most of the ideas for the Frances stories and the other picture books come from our family life." [1]

Information for this biography was taken from:
    1) Anne Commire (ed.). Something About the Authors, #1; Gale Research Company: Detroit, Mich., 1971.
    2) Anne Commire (ed.). Something About the Authors, #40; Gale Research Company: Detroit, Mich., 1985.
    3) Sar a Pendergast and Tom Pendergast (ed.). St. James Guide to Children's Writers; St. James Press: Detroit, 2000.
    4) The Head of Orpheus: A Russell Hoban Reference Page; (http://www.suba.com/~dayvoll/rh/index.html)
    5) "Russell and Lillian Hoban Papers", USM de Grummond Collection; (http://avatar.lib.usm.edu/~degrum/findaids/hobanrus.htm).

Picture Book Titles
E-Hoban A Baby Sister for Frances (1964) -- When things change around the house after a baby sister is born, Frances decides to run away ... but not too far.

H-HOB Bedtime for Frances (1960) -- Frances has trouble going to sleep because of frightening objects and sounds that may be going to get her.

E-HOB Best Friends for Frances (1969) -- When Albert and his buddies have a "No Girls!" baseball game, Frances and her sister organize a best friends' outing -- "No Boys Allowed!"

E-HOB A Birthday for Frances (1968) -- Frances is jealous of her sister's birthday, but the birthday spirit moves her to give her sister a coveted gift.

E-Hoban Bread and Jam for Frances (1993) -- Frances decides she likes to eat only bread and jam at every meal, until to her surprise, her parents grant her wish.

E-Hoban Charlie the Tramp (1966) -- A boy beaver decides he wants to be a tramp who sleeps in open fields and does odd jobs for food, but eventually his beaver instincts get the best of him.

E-Hoban Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1971) -- Struggling to make ends meet, Mrs. Otter and her son Emmet face yet another bleak Christmas until Emmet secretly decides to enter the Frog Town Hollow's first annual talent contest on Christmas Eve.

E-HOB Goodnight (1966) -- Explore the shadowy land of "maybe" resolving all the spooky possibilities a little one thinks of when trying to fall asleep.

E-Hoban The Mole Family's Christmas (1969) -- When the mole family finds out about Christmas and the fat man in the red suit, they ask for a telescope to help them see the stars.

E-HOB Nothing to Do (1964) -- Little Walter Possum has nothing to do until his father gives him a magic stone to rub.

E-HOB The Stone Doll of Sister Brute (1968) -- Lonely Sister Brute turns a stone into a doll to keep her company, then an ugly dog follows her home, and she has two things to love, but she cannot figure out why she still feels sad.

E-HOB Ten What?: A Mystery Counting Book (1975) -- This book introduces the numbers 1 to 10 while two secret agents try to solve the mysterious message "Get ten."

E-Hoban Ugly Bird (1969) -- Everyone thinks the baby bird is very ugly, but Ugly Bird's mother knows, and Ugly Bird discovers, that things are not always what they seem.

ABC-HOB A Bargain for Frances (1970) -- Thelma usually outsmarts Frances until Frances decides to teach her a lesson about friendship.

J-Hoban Letitia Rabbit's Sting Song (1973) -- Letitia Rabbit uses a magic string to help Miss Green put the spirit of winter to sleep so winter can come.

The Head of Orpheus: A Russell Hoban Reference Page (http://www.suba.com/~dayvoll/rh/index.html) - This site provides all sorts of information about the author and his works.

"Russell and Lillian Hoban Papers", USM de Grummond Collection (http://avatar.lib.usm.edu/~degrum/findaids/hobanrus.htm) - The McCain Library at the University of Mississippi has a special collection dedicated toward Hoban and his wife. Information about their works and the collection based on the them can be found here. 

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